Three days ago, the Giants had a rising star on the back end of their defense.
As of this afternoon, they have a potentially season-defining problem.
The team placed second-year safety Kenny Phillips on injured reserve about five hours ago, ending his season and knocking the Giants off their early pole position in the NFC.
According to Newsday's Tom Rock, the knee soreness that bothered Phillips throughout the preseason was diagnosed as patellofemoral arthritis, a potentially career-threatening chronic condition that cannot be corrected or alleviated by surgery.
Dr. Craig Levitz, a noted orthopedist (who, it should be noted, has not examined Phillips or seen his MRI results), offered some very ominous information about the condition in Rock's article.
“Arthritis only goes in one direction," Levitz explained. "It only gets worse, it never gets better.”
In a less physically taxing sport like baseball (the Yankees' Hideki Matsui reportedly suffers from the same condition), it is possible to continue playing with frequent cortisone shots as well as injections designed to drain fluid from the knee.
In the NFL, such measures are totally out of the question.
With Phillips out, the already thin Giants' secondary is practically translucent. Neither Aaron Ross nor Kevin Dockery are likely to play in Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, and Tom Coughlin will be probably be forced to elevate more than one player from the practice squad to the active roster.
The Giants have already started looking for replacements, claiming fourth-year safety Aaron Rouse from Green Bay off waivers.
But with the season already under way, finding a player of Phillips's caliber will be impossible. In just his second year in the league, Phillips had the look of a Pro Bowler: that rare combination of a sure tackler, a devastating hitter, and a smart, aggressive coverage man with phenomenal range.
It is difficult to tell what kind of effect this will have on Jerry Reese's long-term plans for his team. But Reese must be ruefully coming to the conclusion that his team, just 72 hours removed from Super Bowl aspirations, might have a higher draft pick than he'd hoped.